Estonian Foreign Minister Pentus-Rosimannus resigns due to Autorollo case (5)
Following the Tallinn Circuit Court decision yesterday which made Keit Pentus-Rosimannus partly liable for dept accumulated by her father's bankrupt company Autorollo, the foreign minister announced on Wednesday afternoon that she will stand down.
“Contrary to earlier county court judgment, the circuit court ruled that I'm liable to pay back the dept left by my father's former company during the economic crisis. I do not agree with this ruling – it is unjust and I will appeal to The Supreme Court,” Pentus-Rosimannus said in a statement sent to Estonian media.
“A respect for Estonia, its institutions, and for European political culture, does not leave me a choice but to step down from my job as the foreign minister. I delivered my letter of resignation to Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas this afternoon,“ she added.
The Autorollo scandal, as it is known in Estonia, first caught the public eye in 2012. The now defunct trucking company was owned by Väino Pentus, the father of Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.
The public attention in this case came from the fact that before the bankruptcy, Autorollo was drained of money over a short period from 2010-2011. A large amount of money was withdrawn from the firm's account and some of the bank transfers were made from the personal IP addresses of Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Estonia's foreign minister since November, 2014. Väino Pentus testified at one point at court during the previous civil case that part of the money that was intended for Autorollo was used to build Pentus-Rosimannus's house in Tallinn's Viimsi district instead; he later recanted.
Väino Pentus's case has its roots in 2008 when he decided to buy out his partner in the trucking business. In order to proceed, he borrowed 11 million Estonian kroons (about 700,000 euros). It has been reported that creditors were hesitant to issue loans to him, but ultimately decided to, thanks to his son-in-law Rain Rosimannus being an influential Reform Party MP at the time. But the company ran into trouble soon and Pentus asked his daughter and son-in-law's help. The help came in the form of instating lawyer Siim Roode in charge of Autorollo's affairs in April 2010.
According to the separate criminal prosecution, which was brought against Väino Pentus and Siim Roode in April this year, the company was already in a very bad shape by that time and Roode and Pentus subsequently organized a big scam, to avoid orderly bankruptcy proceedings, and free Väino Pentus from being personally liable for dept. Their actions wiped 1.5 million Estonian kroons (approximately 94,000 euros) worth of assets off from Autorollo's books, the prosecution said.
In 2012, a civil lawsuit was brought against Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Rain Rosimannus and their lawyer Siim Roode, in which some of the Autorollo creditors claimed almost 580,000 euros from the trio. The suing creditors argued that the prominent political family used a scam to hide money, behaved like bogus firm directors and eventually let Autorollo to go down the drain. Keit Pentus-Rosimannus prevailed in all facets of the civil case at the court of first instance, but her husband was partly found at fault.
Yesterday's circuit court ruling overturned the first instance judgment, forcing the foreign minister to resign today.
New foreign minister not announced yet
Pentus-Rosimannus will now return to Estonian Parliament as one of the Reform Party MPs. It is considered at least a temporary blow to someone who has been involved with the Reform Party since 1996, when she was hired as an election manager. By 1997, Pentus-Rosimannus was among the Reform Party's future leaders who established a club for young politicians. She later worked as a political advisor in the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2003-05, she was in charge of the Central Tallinn district at the Tallinn City Council. In 2005, she became the head of Andrus Ansip's office, then prime minister. Pentus-Rosimannus became an MP in 2007 and gradually moved up in the Reform Party top hierarchy, becoming the Minister of Environment in 2011 and Foreign Minister last November.
The Reform Party has not yet announced a new candidate to take over Pentus-Rosimannus's job, but taking into account the importance of the position, it is likely to happen very fast. The former foreign minister Urmas Paet and former entrepreneurship minister Anne Sulling are currently predicted to be the top candidates.